San Lorenzo, the church of the Medici family, stands a few blocks from the city’s cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori. The large dome of the Chapel of the Princes (burial place of the Dukes of Tuscany and final resting place of the Duke of Urbino and Lorenzo de Medici) is second only to that of the cathedral.
Surrounding San Lorenzo are hundreds of stalls where goods of every description and quality are sold. These are the infamous ‘shops’ of the San Lorenzo Straw Market. Mercato Nuovo, a huge modern building that houses the freshest of Italian products, stands in sharp architectural contrast to the stark facade of the nearby church.
Travelers are often curious about all the rumors, numerous and rampant, that have surrounded the ‘mystery’ of shopping at the straw market. My advice for anything you might wish to buy from any of the vendors? Start your bargaining at 50 percent of the asking price. While it may seem a steep discount, rest assured that these sellers do just fine.
Unlike the vendors who sell jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio, where you cannot bargain or negotiate, the Market at San Lorenzo is a bargain shoppers paradise.
Once the bargaining begins you at least have the attention of the vendor. Over the past six years, people selling goods are increasingly from Russia, Poland, Hungary . . . so accents change even in the center of Florence. What all of them want, however, is a sale. Some examples of what you will find in the market: Leather Goods, Scarves, silk ties, ceramic pieces (many made in China, by the way), used pants and shirts (clean, surplus goods), shoes and a plethora of other items.
An example of a successful transaction, made on behalf of a client who was traveling with me last year.
The item desired? A deep lavender colored handbag. I began.
“What? You offer me half what I want? No way.”
I begin to walk away. The man picks up the leather bag and follows me.
“Wait, Mister! You give me 75, I agree.” I wave behind me and continue to walk away. He’s next to me. “Okay, Mister. Okay. You offer 60, I take 65. Deal?”
I smile and shake his hand. We walk back to the stall, seek shade from the blistering July sun, and close the deal.Some other tips to help you
along the way as you shop in this area of Florence:
- Look along the sidewalks behind the stalls. There are many shops offering products from silk Italian fabric to leather coats. Since these shops are out of the view of most shoppers, the owners are often more flexible in negotiating a great price for you.
- Go late in the day. If you can arrange to be in the market at the hottest part of the day, after 5:ooPM or so, you will find the vendors more willing to negotiate. It is the end of their selling day and they want to move product.
- WATCH YOUR STUFF! This is a very crowded and confusing area of Florence. Often, people lose focus on their personal items when fascinated with a particular article. This is a reminder to be careful.
- Customs Duty: This is only a concern if you buy one item at any shop that has a value in excess of $168.00 US equivalent. You must ask for a VAT refund form – to make sure that the vendor is legitimate. If they refuse to give you the VAT form? Walk. No need to further complicate your departure from Italy while trying to explain an expensive item you purchased while visiting.
IF YOU GO:
San Lorenzo Market
Vicinity of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in the center of Florence
Hours – generally – 9:00AM to 7:00PM (Summer), 9:30AM – 6:00PM (Winter)